Ballintubber are ready to drive for senior title number five

GAA: Mayo Senior Football Championship Final

The boys from the 'Tubber: Ballintubber's Damien Coleman, Kevin Johnson and Diarmuid O'Connor with the Moclair Cup ahead of the Connacht Gold Mayo GAA Senior Football Final. Photo: Conor McKeown.

The boys from the 'Tubber: Ballintubber's Damien Coleman, Kevin Johnson and Diarmuid O'Connor with the Moclair Cup ahead of the Connacht Gold Mayo GAA Senior Football Final. Photo: Conor McKeown.

On the last day of September 2007, Ballintubber claimed the Mayo Intermediate Championship - in the dozen years that have followed that victory, the west Mayo club have gone on to achieve success after success.

In that time period they have lifted the Moclair Cup four times and tomorrow night go looking to pick up a fifth senior title since 2010 and will be appearing in their seventh final in that time span.

Leading them onto the field tomorrow night is team captain Damien Coleman - an honour he cherishes every day, but, as he says, leadership is something that's not lacking in the Ballintubber dressing room: "It's a great honour, it really is - it means a huge amount to me, it is a great privilege and you think as a young fella' you might get a chance and I have and it's brilliant.

"But it's very easy really because you have so many leaders in that dressing room - we have three Mayo captains over the years in there and they are phenomenal talkers and in the group you have other leaders like the more experienced lads such as Brendan Walsh, Cathal Hallinan and Myles Kelly, they have been around the block and are great leaders."

The hallmark of this Ballintubber team has been their work-rate and ability for taking chances when they are presented to them.

"We give every team the respect they deserve and we plan accordingly but we won't change the way we set out to do things. That is just the way we are and it is working for us, so why change it; and it will be no different on Sunday, we'll give Ballaghaderreen the respect they deserve, but will look at our own game first, because if you don't do that you are going nowhere to be honest.

"We have some of the best shooters in the county - Cillian [O'Connor] is one of the best in the country, Alan Plunkett has been probably the most accurate forward in the county in the last ten years from play and you add into that Stephen O'Malley and Bryan Walsh and these boys and we have plenty of shooters and not to mention Alan Dillon.

"You back them and you can do your job at the back and you don't have to worry about it, there's always a time that some of us will like to rampage forward and have a go and then get f'd and blinded at to come back, but it is really a great confidence boost for us knowing they are there," said the Ballintubber captain.

Last year Kevin Johnson came in as a relative unknown to most as Ballintubber manager and in his first year he guided them to the county title. While he's delighted to be back there again - this year was a different challenge, he admits: "It is very different from last year, after them losing the final (2017 ) I would have brought freshness and it is very different this year, you are that target, so we have done really well, had a few players away, a few injuries, a few lads went to America and it is coming together right now at the end, I am delighted the way it worked out."

In their semi-final win over Ballina, Johnson's side shut down the powerful threat that Ballina showed they posed in their quarter-final win - but it was all about playing the game their way, the Sligo native says: "We felt I think, that they set up very well and we were very well organised and coming into the game, a lot of the work would have been about being composed and patient, because we knew what they would bring and would be very hard to break down.

"From a Ballintubber point of view it was about making sure we didn't concede anything early and that we stayed with them and the most important thing was to take our chances; there was a five minute period at the end of the half that we got three scores in, which probably flattered us a small bit, so we went in 0-5 to 0-2 when it could have been a bit closer."

Having that ability to get a run of scores when it counts has seen Ballintubber get over many tight encounters in the past and that's down to the quality and experience of the guys taking on those shots, says Johnson: "There is a lot of experience [there] and top inter-county footballers with Cillian [O'Connor] up there in the full forward line and we have Alan Dillon and Alan Plunkett who have been around a long time.

"What we have tried to work on is that we have found new players and a lot of credit must go to the club coaches at under-age - and I'm lucky to be the senior manager. Last year Ciaran Gavin was coming from the minors set-up, he brings a lot of pace; this year we got Noel Geraghty, he also brings a lot of pace and energy and the likes of Jamesie Finnerty who started the Connacht club final last year, we have a lot of balance between experience and youth and pace and I'm delighted as a manager to bring these players on and develop them."

Constantly finding one or two new players capable of playing at the top level is a necessity in order for clubs to continue the success of the top team as the club feeds down into those players progressing, says Coleman: "It is a phenomenal achievement in such a small parish, we may have only 14 players at u16 level and have to bring u14 lads to play with them, so for us to be bringing in new players every year and for them to have the drive and the quality that it requires to get to a county final and to be competing at the top table, is pretty special."

Their success at senior level has seen them show a pathway for the children in the club that they can make it to the top in the club game and further - something the Ballintubber captain is proud of: "All ye have to do is go back to the centre on a Saturday morning and see 80 plus kids from six to ten years of age there and their dream is now to go and play for Ballintubber and do it at a senior level. When you have the likes of Diarmuid O'Connor, Cillian O'Connor, Jason Gibbons, Alan Dillon and Michael Plunkett, they are boys who have all played for Mayo so that has helped too - they can see the dream can be got and we hope it will continue."

As for what is waiting for them tomorrow night, Johnson is under no illusions that it's going to be a very tough ask for Ballintubber to deliver county title number five: "We focus an awful lot of work on ourselves and back ourselves - obviously you have got to be aware of what your opponents will do and we'll be backing ourselves and hopefully getting a good start - also for a number of players in Ballaghaderreen there are a number there going for a third county title - they have a lot of experience as well. In 2012 they went into a county final against Ballintubber who were firm favourites and Ballaghaderren caught them - we'll be under no illusions they will be bringing a big fight to this game."


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